- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Republican Gov. Susana Martinez urged state lawmakers Tuesday to put aside their politics and come together to focus on improving the lives of New Mexico’s children through a slew of education and economic development reforms.

Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her State of the State address after lawmakers convened for what many have described as a historic 60-day session.

The political landscape has shifted somewhat now that Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives, something the state hasn’t seen in 60 years. Whether that will help the governor as she pushes her initiatives remains to be seen since Democrats continue to control the Senate, where many of the proposals she floated during her first term faced steep opposition.

Martinez noted the change of power in the House and told a packed chamber that New Mexico voters were tired of the status quo.

“Voters didn’t choose one party over another in November. I firmly believe they chose progress over politics,” she said. “They chose to move forward, to keep reforming, and that’s my commitment - to work together with Republicans and Democrats to make New Mexico an even better place to live - for them, and for their children and grandchildren.”

The governor’s address was focused on what kind of future the state’s children could have depending on the actions taken during the session. She touched on everything from social promotion and truancy in the public school system to highway infrastructure and the need to attract more industries to the state.

Before wrapping up her address, she brought before the crowded House chamber the children wounded during last year’s school shooting in Roswell.

Lawmakers gave eighth-graders Nathaniel Tavarez and Kendal Sanders a standing ovation. Tavarez spent weeks in hospitals and rehabilitation centers for treatment of wounds to his chest, heart, face and head. His vision in both eyes has been severely diminished. Sanders was released from a hospital after surgeries to repair damage to her right arm and shoulder.

With an arm around each child, Martinez told them they had her support. The governor then told lawmakers their work should be influenced by a desire to help Tavarez, Sanders and the rest of New Mexico’s children.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said he was surprised he agreed with the governor on one issue: investing in economic development. However, he challenged her education reforms and her call to boost first-year teacher salaries. He said the increase should be across the board.

“Teachers aren’t teaching like they used to,” he said. “Teachers are now worried about teaching to the test rather than the subject.”

The main assignment for lawmakers is approving a $6.3 billion budget to finance public education and general government programs. Regardless of the promises of bipartisanship, one of the main disagreements will likely be over education spending, which accounts for a significant portion of the budget.

Many Democrats disagree with the governor’s efforts to have the Public Education Department distribute money in the budget for specific school improvement initiatives rather than funneling a lump sum of state aid through the school finance formula that allows local officials to decide spending.

The amount of new money the governor and lawmakers have for budget increases and to offset tax cuts for the next fiscal year could end up being slashed by as much as half as oil prices continue to drop. The most recent forecast included about $140 million in new money, but lawmakers are expecting to make adjustments when new numbers are released next month.

Lawmakers are also expected to debate proposals that call for making New Mexico a right-to-work state, raising the minimum wage, ending the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally and financing capital improvement projects.

Don Tripp, a Socorro Republican who was elected House speaker on Tuesday, called the session historic and said he will continue to reach across the aisle and work with anyone who wants to move the state forward.

“We have an opportunity to change things,” he told the chamber. “This is the year we can put politics aside and work on our common goals.”


Associated Press writer Astrid Galvan contributed to this report.

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